“Bring forth one true champion, or a hundred more like you, and then we shall have a battle that will be spoken of until the end of time.”
The peerless warrior known as Pantheon is a nigh-unstoppable paragon of battle. He was born among the Rakkor, a warlike people living on the flanks of Mount Targon, and after climbing the mountain’s treacherous peak and being deemed worthy, he was chosen to become the earthly incarnation of the celestial Aspect of War. Imbued with inhuman power, he relentlessly seeks the enemies of Targon, leaving only corpses in his wake.
Atreus was a proud young Rakkoran named after one of the four stars that formed the Warrior constellation in the night sky – the constellation known to the Rakkor as the Pantheon. While not the fastest or strongest of the young warriors of Mount Targon, nor the most skilled with the bow, spear or blade, Atreus was determined, single-minded, and his endurance was legendary among his peers. Every day before dawn, while the others slept, he rose to run the treacherous paths of Mount Targon, and he was ever the last to leave the training ground at night, his arms leaden from blade-work.
A fierce rivalry developed between Atreus and another young Rakkoran, a boy called Pylas. Born into a line of renowned warriors, Pylas was skillful, strong, and popular. He seemed destined for greatness, and none his age could best him in the fighting circle. Only Atreus refused to back down, pushing himself up from the ground to fight on, bloodied and bruised, even after being knocked down again and again. While this earned Atreus the respect of his grizzled instructors, it gained him the enmity of Pylas, who took Atreus’s unrelenting defiance as a lack of respect.
Atreus was shunned by his peers and suffered numerous beatings from Pylas and his followers, though he endured it all with stoic resilience. He kept his growing ostracism a secret from his family, knowing it would only cause them pain.
On an early winter patrol, a day’s march from their village, the young warriors and their trainers came upon the smoking ruin of a Rakkoran outpost. Blood stained the snow, and bodies lay strewn across the ground. A hasty retreat was ordered, but it was too late… the enemy was already upon them.
Clad in furs and heavy iron armor, the outsiders sprang from beneath the snow, axes flashing in the cold light. None of the young warriors had completed their training, and their superiors were all greybeards, well past their prime, yet several enemies were slain for every one of their own that fell. Nevertheless, the outsiders outnumbered them, and the Rakkor were cut down, one by one.
Pylas and Atreus fought back to back, the last of the Rakkor still standing. Both were injured and bleeding. The battle would be over in moments, yet they knew they had to warn the village. Atreus plunged his spear into a barbarian’s throat, while Pylas cut down two more, creating a momentary gap in the circle of enemies. Atreus told Pylas to go, saying that he would hold their enemies off so Pylas could get away. With no time to argue – Atreus was already charging the enemy – Pylas ran.
Atreus fought hard, but as a heavy axe slammed into his chest, he finally fell, and slipped into unconsciousness.
Atreus awoke, not in the celestial afterlife as he had expected, but upon the mountain where he had fallen. The sun had dropped behind the surrounding peaks, and a fresh layer of snow covered him. Numb and barely lucid, he pushed himself to his feet. He picked his way between the bodies of the fallen Rakkor, but all were dead. Worse, Pylas lay some way off, a throwing axe embedded in his back. Word had not reached their village.
Half-crawling, half-stumbling to Pylas’s side, Atreus found his one-time rival alive, but horribly wounded. Hefting the young warrior to his shoulders, Atreus began the long trek home. Three days later, he stumbled to the outskirts of their village, and finally allowed himself to collapse.
He awoke to find Pylas watching over him, and his wounds stitched and bound. While Atreus was relieved to find that their village had not been attacked, he was also surprised to learn that neither the Rakkor nor the Solari elders had sent out the Ra-Horak to find and kill the intruders, choosing instead to stay and defend against any possible attack.
In the months that followed, Atreus and Pylas became close friends. All earlier antagonism forgotten, they threw themselves into their training with renewed vigor and purpose. All the while, Atreus’s resentment toward the Solari order grew. He felt the best way to protect the Rakkor was to actively seek out and destroy their would-be enemies, but the new leader of the Solari’s warriors – a former member of his own tribe, Leona – preached a different form of protection, which Atreus felt was weak and passive.
As with all young Rakkorans, Atreus and Pylas had grown up hearing stories of great heroes climbing to the peak of Mount Targon and being blessed with great power. Having passed the arduous Rakkoran warrior rites together, the pair began to train in earnest toward making the ascent themselves. Atreus hoped to gain the power he would need to seek out and defeat the enemies of the Rakkor himself, since it seemed the Solari were not willing to do so.
Only the strongest attempted the climb, and fewer than one in a thousand even glimpsed the peak. Nevertheless, Atreus and Pylas joined a larger group gathered from all the Rakkoran villages scattered around the foothills of the mountain, and began the ascent. As they set off, the sun turned dark as the silver moon passed before it. Some saw this as an ill omen, but Atreus took it as a sign he was on the right path – that his beliefs about the Solari were correct.
After weeks of climbing, the group was half its original size. Some had turned back, while others had been claimed by the mountain, having fallen into crevasses, been buried beneath avalanches, or frozen to death in the night. They were high above the cloud line, and the sky was filled with strange shifting lights and illusions. Still they pressed on.
The air grew steadily thinner, and the cold ever more bitter as the weeks turned to months. Several climbers stopped to catch their breath, never to move again, their flesh freezing to the mountain. Others, driven insane by the lack of air and exhaustion, threw themselves from the cliffs, falling like stones. One by one, the mountain claimed those who attempted to master it, until only Pylas and Atreus remained.
Exhausted, frozen, and their minds addled, the pair made the final ascent to the summit, only to find… nothing.
They saw no fabled city at the peak, nor any sky-warrior heroes waiting to embrace them – only ice, death, and rocks twisted into strange circular shapes. Pylas collapsed, the last of his strength finally giving out, and Atreus roared his frustration.
Knowing Pylas had not the strength to make the descent, Atreus sat with him, cradling his head in his lap as he watched the life drain from his friend.
Then the heavens opened. The air shimmered like liquid, and a gateway opened before Atreus. Golden light spilled out, warming his face, and a city beyond the veil could be glimpsed – a place of inconceivable architecture and grandiose vision. A figure stood waiting for him, hand outstretched.
Tears of awe ran down Atreus’s face. He would not have left his friend, but as he looked down he saw that Pylas had died in his arms, a beatific smile upon his face. Atreus stood, closed his friend’s eyes, and laid him gently on the melting snow. He stepped forward to meet his guide, walking through the veil of reality to the real Targon.
Months passed. On the lower flanks of the mountain, it was assumed Atreus and Pylas had died along with everyone else who had attempted the ascent. They were mourned, but this was nothing unusual, nor was it unexpected. Only once in a generation did someone return with power from the top of the mountain.
It was at this time that another raiding party of northern barbarians mysteriously appeared on the mountain, almost a year to the day since they had butchered those Rakkorans at the outpost and Atreus’s peers. They attacked a number of isolated villages, slaughtering and pillaging, before pushing on toward a Solari shrine high upon the mountain. The guards there were heavily outnumbered, yet they stood ready to die defending the relics and mystics within.
As the enemy marauders closed in, an unnatural, keening wind descended, whipping the snow around in a growing fury. The swirling clouds parted, exposing the full majesty of Mount Targon at the epicenter of the storm. Warriors on both sides struggled to maintain their footing, shielding their eyes against the ice storm as a ghostly, glowing city appeared in the heavens at the mountain’s apex.
The four stars of the Pantheon constellation pulsed brightly, then turned dark overhead. Simultaneously, the burning light of a falling star appeared within the ethereal city and streaked toward the ground.
It screamed toward the temple, moving at astonishing speed, and the barbarians prayed to their heathen gods in quivering voices. The streaming light slammed down, striking the ground between the two forces with an earth-shattering impact.
This was no star, but a warrior mantled in starlight and bearing a gleaming, golden shield and spear of legend. He had landed in a warrior’s crouch, one knee lowered to the ground, and as he looked up at the enemy defiling the lands of Mount Targon, the Rakkorans saw it was Atreus… and yet not Atreus. The Aspect of the Warrior had infused him, and he was now both mortal and immortal, the incarnation of war made flesh. He was now an avatar of battle. He had become the Pantheon.
He rose from his crouch, eyes blazing with celestial light, and the enemy knew death had come for them.
The battle was over quickly; none could stand against Pantheon. The outsiders’ blood ran from Pantheon’s armor and weapon, leaving them pristine and gleaming with starlight. His enemies defeated, Pantheon marched into the roaring ice storm and disappeared.
Atreus’s family mourned their son and held a funeral for him. While they had suspected he was dead after he had not returned from the expedition, now his demise was confirmed. The Pantheon Aspect had obliterated his personality, memories and emotions. Atreus’s flesh was nothing but a shell inhabited by the supernatural Aspect of War; his mortal soul had joined those of the ancestors in the celestial afterlife.
Atreus was not the first appearance of Pantheon on Runeterra – there have been others, and there will likely be more. They are not immortal, limited by the human flesh they inhabit, and can be killed, though it takes great effort to do so. Pantheon’s latest appearance has been greatly debated by the elders of the Solari, for his arrival is both a blessing and a curse, as it often heralds a time of darkness yet to come…
A lone figure awaited the armed convoy, standing silhouetted against the sun. His heavy cloak and the long plume atop his helm billowed in the hot, dry desert wind. A tall spear was held at his side.
The convoy was thirty strong. Most of its number were hired mercenaries – rough, warlike men and women garbed in hauberks, leather and chain, bearing crossbows, halberds and blades. They walked the dusty path alongside heavily-laden mules, though they came to halt, crude insults and jokes dying on their lips, as they saw the warrior standing motionless before them. The dark-clad leader of the expedition frowned as he pulled his coal-black steed to a halt.
The figure atop the rocky outcrop made no move to stand aside.
“You come with murder in your hearts,” he said.
His voice was as hard as iron, and strangely accented.
“I am of the Mountain. You shall go no further.”
The mercenaries smirked and scoffed.
“Piss off, madman,” one of them shouted, “lest we plant your head on a spike to mark our passing.”
“You are a long way from home, friend,” the leader of the convoy said. “We journey to the mountain ourselves. There need be no blood spilt here.”
The lone warrior was unmoved.
“We are simple pilgrims, and still have a long journey ahead of us,” said the leader. “And besides, there is no way back for us now. Our ships have sailed, see?” he said, gesturing behind him.
Behind the convoy, less than a mile distant, the sea glittered like dragon-scales in the dying light. A trio of galleys could be seen, sails unfurling as they turned north on the long journey home.
“We come with no ill intent, I assure you,” the leader continued. “We merely seek wisdom.”
“Your tongue is forked, serpent,” said the lone warrior. “You seek the blood of the Seer. Turn aside, or be slain.”
The rider’s frown deepened, and he turned away with a dismissive shrug.
“So be it,” he said. “Kill him.”
In an instant, crossbows were hefted to shoulders and the air was filled with loosed bolts. The lone warrior was not punched from his feet, however; the bolts clanged as they ricocheted from his heavy, circular shield. Then he began to advance.
He appeared to be in no hurry. He strode forward with grim resolve, still silhouetted against the sun, the tip of his spear lowering toward his enemies. Another flurry of crossbow bolts. Again they were turned aside by his shield.
The first of the snarling mercenaries launched herself toward him, a jagged-bladed scimitar arcing in for his throat. She died in the blink of an eye, the warrior’s spear buried in her chest. The next two died almost as quickly as the warrior’s spear slashed a crimson line across one man’s throat and the rim of his shield cracked another’s skull.
“Take him!” roared the expedition’s leader, drawing an exquisite, bespoke pistol from his waistband.
A cloud passed in front of the sun, allowing the warrior to be seen more clearly. He was bedecked in armor of archaic design, though his arms and legs were bare and tautly muscled. His cloak was deep crimson, though in the twilight it seemed as if stars gleamed in the shimmering fabric. That starlight also glittered in his unrelenting gaze, shadowed within the visor slits of his helm.
The lone warrior moved like liquid, every movement smooth, efficient and deadly. He was impossibly fast, faster than any man should be. More mercenaries died, their blood staining the dry desert ground. None could land a blow upon the deadly fighter. He moved effortlessly through the battle, closing inexorably on the horseman. One by one, the mercenaries were slain. In moments, those still standing turned and fled in the face of this unstoppable foe.
The rider levelled his pistol at the lone warrior and fired. Impossibly, he swayed aside at the last moment, and the shot merely scraped across the side of his helm. The leader swore and cocked his pistol for another shot… but he was too slow.
The warrior’s shield took him square in the chest, and he was hurled from the saddle. He fell heavily and grimaced as the warrior’s foot came down on his torso, pinning him to the ground.
“Who are you?” he hissed.
“I am your death,” said the lone warrior. “I am Pantheon.”
The leader of the convoy turned his head to the side, seeing his pistol lying in the dust nearby. He reached for it, but it was a hopeless act of desperation.
“Rejoice, mortal,” said Pantheon. “It is a great honor to die beneath the Spear of Targon.”
The broken man made to speak, but his words were cut short as Pantheon’s spear drove down through his chest. Blood bubbled from the dying man’s lips, and then he lay still.
Pantheon pulled his weapon clear and turned away. Twilight had given way to dusk, and countless stars lit the night sky.
A comet of burning fire streaked down toward the distant mountains, a hundred miles east.
Pantheon’s eyes narrowed.
“It is time, then,” he said to the darkness, and began the long journey back to Mount Targon.